Impoverished Haiti making its own Android tablet

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Updated 29 April 2014
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Impoverished Haiti making its own Android tablet

PORT-AU-PRINCE: Better known for producing third-world poverty and political mayhem — as well as a world-class rum — the Western Hemisphere’s least developed country has made a surprising entry into the high-tech world with its own Android tablet.
Sandwiched between textile factories in a Port-au-Prince industrial park next to a slum, a Haitian-founded company has begun manufacturing the low-cost tablet called Sûrtab, a name closely resembling the Haitian Creole for “on the table.”
Unlike the factories next door where low-paid textile workers churn out cheap undergarments for the US market, Sûrtab workers are equipped with soldering irons, not sewing machines.
Dressed in sterile white work clothes, and a hair net, Sergine Brice is proud of her job. “I never imagined I could, one day, make a tablet by myself,” she said.
Unemployed for a year after losing her position in a phone company, Brice, 22, was not sure she had the skills when she took the job after Sûrtab opened last year.
“When I arrived and realized the job deals with electronic components, I was wondering if I would be able to do it. But when I finished my first tablet ... I felt an immense pleasure,” she said.
Her family and friends were skeptical. “None of them believed me,” she said. “Tablets made in Haiti? What are you talking about?” they told her.
“Haitians have in our minds the idea that nothing can be done in this country. I proved that yes, we Haitians have the capacity to do many things,” she said. “It’s not just Americans or Chinese. We’ve got what they’ve got, so we can do it too.”
With $200,000 in start-up funds from the US Agency for International Development (USAID), and using imported Asian components, the factory produces three models all with 7-inch (18-cm) screens that run on Google Inc’s Android operation system. They range from a simple wifi tablet with 512 megabytes of RAM for about $100, to a 3G model with 2-gigabytes of memory for $285.
The small factory with 40 employees is a throwback to the 1970s and 1980s when Haiti had a thriving assembly industry, including computer boards, as well as baseballs for US professional teams.
Political turmoil, and a US economic embargo in the 1990s following a military coup, put them out of business.
“A product such as Sûrtab shows that Haitians are not just destined for low-wage, low-skilled jobs,” said John Groarke, country director for USAID. “It’s the sort of high-skilled job that the country needs to work its way out of poverty.”
Brice, who works an eight-hour shift, would not disclose her salary. Sûrtab employees receive a bonus for each tablet that successfully passes the quality control and the company says it pays two to three times the Haitian minimum wage of $5 a day.

INDIVIDUALLY ASSEMBLED
With only a limited selection of expensive imported tablets available in Haiti, Sûrtab is the cheapest device on the market.
“It’s easy to use and it takes really good quality photos, like any other tablet,” said one happy customer, Lisbeth Plantin. “And it’s great to see ‘Made in Haiti’ on the back,” she added.
At the factory there is no production line, instead workers assemble each device from start to finish.
“We could have done like in Asia, one task per employee, which is faster, but we wanted to have a better quality product,” said Diderot Musset, Sûrtab’s production manager.
Depending on the model, it takes an employee between 35 minutes and an hour to make a tablet. The company produces between 4,000 to 5,000 tablets a month, but plans to double that in April.
“We want the parts of the market which are not taken by the big players, especially in developing countries. These people would like to have a tablet but cannot afford an iPad,” he said, referring to the Apple Inc. device that costs at least $300 in US stores and is barely available in Haiti.
All the factory floor employees are women.
“It was not a choice we made but it happens that women have better results. I think women may be more open to learn something completely different from what they were doing before,” Musset said with a smile.
The company is running into inevitable skepticism about the quality of a Haitian-made tablet. “Some people only believe in it when they come here and see the girls working,” he said.
The company has a retail distribution deal in Haiti with Digicel, a global telecom company that dominates the local cellphone market, as well as sales to Haitian government ministries and local non-governmental organizations.
A university in Kenya also ordered 650 Sûrtab devices.
Sûrtab is hoping to diversify its product line beyond tablets, said Patrick Sagna, director of business development.
“We want to establish a presence in the software sector. We are in contact with people from San Francisco who are ready to work with Haitian developers,” he said.
Sûrtab’s investors are looking to build an applied science graduate school, as well as looping in Haiti’s skilled arts and crafts industry to help with design.
“Rather than importing covers for our tablets, we will produce them locally,” said Sagna. “We want our packaging, made with recycled and recyclable materials, to become a traveling cultural exhibition to highlight Haitian culture around the world,” he added.


US eases restrictions on China’s Huawei to keep networks, phones operating

Updated 21 May 2019
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US eases restrictions on China’s Huawei to keep networks, phones operating

  • The company is still prohibited from buying American parts and components to manufacture new products without license approvals
  • Out of $70 billion Huawei spent buying components in 2018, some $11 billion went to US firms
WASHINGTON: The US government on Monday temporarily eased some trade restrictions imposed last week on China’s Huawei, a move that sought to minimize disruption for the telecom company’s customers around the world.
The US Commerce Department will allow Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. to purchase American-made goods in order to maintain existing networks and provide software updates to existing Huawei handsets.
The company is still prohibited from buying American parts and components to manufacture new products without license approvals that likely will be denied.
The US government said it imposed the restrictions because of Huawei’s involvement in activities contrary to national security or foreign policy interests.
The new authorization is intended to give telecommunications operators that rely on Huawei equipment time to make other arrangements, US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said in a statement.
“In short, this license will allow operations to continue for existing Huawei mobile phone users and rural broadband networks,” Ross added.
The license, which is in effect until Aug. 19, suggests changes to Huawei’s supply chain may have immediate, far-reaching and unintended consequences for its customers.
“The goal seems to be to prevent Internet, computer and cell phone systems from crashing,” said Washington lawyer Kevin Wolf, a former Commerce Department official. “This is not a capitulation. This is housekeeping.”
Huawei, the world’s largest telecommunications equipment maker, declined to comment.
The Commerce Department said it will evaluate whether to extend the exemptions beyond 90 days.
On Thursday, the US Commerce Department added Huawei and 68 entities to an export blacklist that makes it nearly impossible for the Chinese company to purchase goods made in the United States.
The government tied Huawei’s addition to the “entity list” to a pending case accusing the company of engaging in bank fraud to obtain embargoed US goods and services in Iran and move money out of the country via the international banking system. Huawei has pleaded not guilty.
Reuters reported Friday that the department was considering a temporary easing, citing a government spokeswoman.
The temporary license also allows disclosures of security vulnerabilities and for Huawei to engage in the development of standards for future 5G networks.
Reuters reported Sunday that Alphabet Inc’s Google suspended business with Huawei that requires the transfer of hardware, software and technical services except those publicly available via open source licensing, citing a source familiar with the matter.
Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the new authorization.
Out of $70 billion Huawei spent buying components in 2018, some $11 billion went to US firms including Qualcomm Inc. , Intel Corp. and Micron Technology Inc.
“I think this is a reality check,” said Washington trade lawyer Douglas Jacobson. “It shows how pervasive Huawei goods and technology are around the globe and if the US imposes restrictions, that has impacts.”
Jacobson said the effort to keep existing networks operating appeared aimed at telecom providers in Europe and other countries where Huawei equipment is pervasive.
The move also could assist mobile service providers in thinly populated areas of the United States, such as Wyoming and eastern Oregon, that purchased network equipment from Huawei in recent years.
John Neuffer, the president of the Semiconductor Industry Association, which represents US chipmakers and designers, said in a statement that the association wants the government would ease the restrictions further.
“We hope to work with the administration to broaden the scope of the license,” he said, so that it advances US security goals but does not undermine the industry’s ability to compete globally and remain technology leaders.
A report on Monday on the potential impact of stringent export controls on technologies found that US firms could lose up to $56.3 billion in export sales over five years.
The report, from the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, said the missed opportunities threatened as many as 74,000 jobs.
Wolf, the former Commerce official, said the Huawei reprieve was similar to action taken by the department in July to prevent systems from crashing after the US banned China’s ZTE Corp, a smaller Huawei rival, from buying American-made components in April.
The US trade ban on ZTE wreaked havoc at wireless carriers in Europe and South Asia, sources told Reuters at the time.
The ban on ZTE was lifted July 13 after the company struck an agreement with the Commerce Department that included a $1 billion fine plus $400 million in escrow and replacement of its board of directors and senior management. ZTE, which had ceased major operations as a result of the ban, then resumed business.
(Reporting by Karen Freifeld in New York and David Shepardson in Washington; Additional reporting by Diane Bartz in Washington and Angela Moon; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Cynthia Osterman)